World Ethics and Climate Change: From International to Global Justice

By Paul G. Harris | Go to book overview

INTRODUCTION

The ecological underpinnings of the Earth are under monumental assault by human beings. As a consequence, the world is caught in a truly profound dilemma. Decades-long efforts by governments and the international community to cooperate in protecting the global environment have failed to bring about robust action to limit greenhouse gas pollution causing global warming and climate change. While pursuing apparently logical economic and social development, and by acting in ways that are assumed to promote the interests of states and their citizens, humanity continues dangerously to alter the Earth’s atmospheric and climate systems, with profound consequences for human well-being and, for many millions of people, even survival. One reason for this tragedy of the atmospheric commons is the preoccupation of governments and societies with political independence and national sovereignty, the dominance of an international system premised on that sovereignty, and a failure adequately to recognise twenty-first-century realities, notably rapidly expanding numbers of new consumers in the developing countries that are adding greatly to the greenhouse gas pollution that has long come from people in the developed countries. The dilemma brought on by this preoccupation with states and their sovereign rights requires an alternative pathway leading to environmentally sustainable development that is agreeable to both rich and poor countries and to their peoples.1

As part of efforts to find this pathway, this book’s project is to explore the role of justice in the world’s responses to climate change, and in particular to introduce and explain an alternative strategy for tackling climate change that is more principled and practical than the prevailing doctrine, and that may be much more politically acceptable to governments and citizens than are existing responses to the problem. This alternative strategy is premised on cosmopolitanism. A cosmopolitan ethic, and its practical implementation in the form of global justice,

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